In class today while discussing Borden, Dr. Scanlon brought up how some people viewed the war as a great purge, akin to Noah’s flood, that would clean the Earth of its sins and allow humanity to start over. She also said that major cities we all know of will go under water in our own lifetimes because of the way people have trashed the planet (paraphrasing here). In a way, humanity’s inability/unwillingness to care for the planet is like a sin.
I hadn’t been out of class for five minutes when a friend sent me this news article about major flooding in Venice: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/world/europe/venice-floods-italy.html
Whether or not you believe that climate change is going to wipe us all out and we’ll deserve it because humans are selfish shitbags who ruined Mother Nature’s resources in the name of colonization and capitalism (I’ve given up on trying to be erudite because I just don’t have it in me right now), it should be concerning to everyone with an ounce of sense that the extreme weather patterns we’ve been having are wreaking death and destruction throughout the earth.
I have a brother who’s done tours in Afghanistan but is now stationed very close to Venice. Being the sister of a man who’s been bombed at multiple times has made it very difficult for me in class some days, because I frankly do not want to read these horrifically gruesome, detailed, and hopeless books about dead soldiers when my brother is getting shot at on the reg. And now I really, really don’t want to think about God sending a second wave of watery punishment down to Earth because humans are awful and it’s doubtful as to whether or not we can still salvage the planet. Maybe it’s selfish to not want to open my eyes to the history of political conflict in the world, and to not want to keep educating myself about this. Maybe I’m just selfish, then.
“…some sailor in a North AFrican port had dug needles of blue ink into the marble flesh of his arm, and written there the indelible words – Enfant de Malheur…the face of a chocolate-box beauty done in colours decorated its smooth surface. Her silly blue eyes stared up from between his fine flat shoulder blades and her full red lips smiled on his spinal cord. She was a trashy creature, a plump, coarse morsel, no fit companion for this young prince of darkness…”
One of the defining physical components of Enfant is his tattoos. I found a comprehensive article on the significance of Russian prison tattoos, and the second article is about the French history of tattoos. Together, I think they both help explain the significance of prison tattoos, and why Enfant’s criminal status is so important.
I did not enjoy this film. Knowing that African Queen was a Bogart and Hepburn movie, I went into this excited, looking for a respite from an otherwise depressing list of assignments. I’m accustomed to the quirks of early-mid 20th century movies, so I thought this would be a harmless, charming film. Instead, I was bothered by the movie’s portrayal of Africa, Germans, and women.
The first scene of the movie opens in a Christian church service somewhere in East Africa. The indigenous people gathered there are singing Western hymns, or, at least, they are attempting to. The opening shots are loud, chaotic, and the only time it is possible to make out the hymn being sung is when the camera pans over to the two white missionaries, who are clearly overheated and frustrated with the pandemonium. After several agonizing moments, a fight breaks out between a few Africans outside the church, and more Africans rush out of the church to join the fray. The English missionaries are disgruntled, of course. A short while later, we see Germans storm into the local village and kidnap Africans to serve in the army. After that, we do not see any more Africans except in a few short seconds towards the end of the movie. For a movie named after and set in Africa, the main characters, who dominate most of the screen time, are unquestionably white. I was uncomfortable from the very beginning of this movie because of the way it condescendingly portrayed the Africans as disorderly, loud, unorganized, and violent. The shot in the church was also a painful reminder of how Western religions were deliberately weaponized and used as a means of colonization – it didn’t seem like any of the Africans particularly enjoyed the Christian service, and yet because of the colonialist influence, the missionaries persisted (gross). The rest of the movie’s portrayal of Africa struck me as problematic simply because it seemed disingenuous. There were frequent shots of giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, monkeys, an assortment of birds, insects, and even leeches. And yet rather than seeming natural, it was as if the movie wanted to take me on a safari ride through Africa, pointing out all the exotic animals, without really stopping to consider if those shots fit easily into the natural flow and needs of the film. There’s also a truly horrific moment when Katherine Hepburn’s character, Rose, sees a patch of beautiful flowers beside a river and claims that she bets no one has ever seen them before and so they must not have a “proper” name. The Africans have seen the flowers, Rose. They’ve seen them.
Because African Queen is a British-American movie centered around WWI, it is anti-German. The Germans in the movie were immediately villainized, and they existed only as enemies of the main characters. I noticed that there were no subtitles of the German lines in the film, which is something I typically expect out of movies with foreign languages in them today. Movies have subtitles so that viewers can understand all the dialogue as it is necessary to advance the plot forward or reveal truths about the speakers. The absence of subtitling, although it could have merely been unfashionable at the time, makes me think that the filmmakers deliberately did not want viewers to understand the Germans. The Germans are not complex characters within the movie, just villains, and their harsh cries and orders are supposed to reinforce the negative emotions that surrounded Germans during this era. Therefore, it is unnecessary to understand what they are saying. The mere sound of the language would have been enough to trigger those negative emotions.
The gender roles in this movie made me want to poke my eyes out, or at the very least, go chop down a tree in order to prove my capabilities to myself. Rose is the epitome of the good English girl. In the beginning, she is pious, devout, and chaste. She hides her chemise and slip when she is bathing off the boat, and makes Humphrey Bogart’s character, Charlie, avert his head when he helps her up. She initially refuses to sleep under the same awning as Charlie does, relenting only because of a rainstorm. When she learns of the war, she immediately wants to “do her bit” by blowing up the German boats. She is patriotic, godly, and beautiful (and tragically boring). After falling in love with Charlie, she loosens up. She addresses him fondly, initiates physical intimacy, lets him see her in her underclothes, takes down her hair, and cozies up to his body whenever she can. And yet she is still the good English girl – she affirms his manliness and strength to him at every turn. She inundates him with sickening lines like, “You’re the bravest man I ever met,” and “There’s no man in the world like you, dear.” Because of this, I think the viewers in the 50’s would have forgiven her sudden “loose” morals and familiarities on the boat, because she is still staying within her place as a woman. She is an object of beauty for Charlie to stare at, while constantly reassuring him of his masculine strength and prowess (gross). She even remains pious, by praying to God in their moments of need. Charlie responds in keeping with tradition. He is the manliest of men: single-handedly repairing the boat, rescuing them from the flies, drinking too much liquor, and referring to Rose in demeaning, gendered terms. Both characters manage to be perfect encapsulations of who they are supposed to be.
All things considered, I found the plot of this movie to be incredibly slow-moving, the characterization of people and events to be unbelievable (Rose immediately stops grieving over her dead brother? The torpedo just happens to blow up the ship as the nooses are being lowered? The Sayer siblings didn’t hear about the war until thirty seconds before the Germans showed up in the village?), and the endless scenes in the boat to be repetitive. But more than that, I was distressed by the way the movie so casually treated issues like race, colonization, war, and gender. Maybe I should be thankful for my education and for the way it allows me to identify when pieces of classic art or entertainment engage with historical moments in a problematic way. Or maybe I’m just pissed that now I can’t enjoy a Humphrey Bogart film because I can’t turn my English Major brain off. Either, way, 2/5 bottles of gin, would not recommend.
And I gave it those two bottles solely for genuinely great euphemism: when a windswept, breathless, disheveled Rose exclaims, “I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” Me too, Rose.
Word Count = 1121, I pledge.
In class today we discussed the moment when Cat says that she “took everything” that she was supposed to in order to prevent the pregnancy. Birth control pills wouldn’t have been available in this time period, so I did a quick search on traditional methods of birth control.
The above is an article on the history of condoms and sponges, which would have been methods FH and Cat could have used to prevent the baby. The article says the first rubber condom was invented in 1855. Perhaps condoms were not accessible in the country or place, and they never used them.
This one is an article on different plant solutions to preventing unwanted pregnancies. I don’t know how effective any of them are, but they may have been solutions Cat was familiar with and took during the beginning of their relationship.